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Avian Medicine – Closing in on a Treatment for Proventricular Dilation Disease

Patagonian ConuresA cure for Proventricular Dilation Disease (PDD), the bane of parrot-owners, has eluded veterinarians for over 30 years.  In 2008, Avian Bornavirus (ABV) was indentified as a probable cause of the fatal neurological disorder.  When I wrote about that discovery (please see article below), I hoped that more good news would follow…today I’m happy to file this promising update. Read More »

Diagnosis and Treatment of Ailments Afflicting Parrots, Canaries, Finches, Mynas and other Cage and Aviary Birds – Part 2

Click here to read the first part of this article.

Foot Ailments

Bumblefoot (swollen toe joints)

Bacterial infections (often Staphylococcus) take hold in small wounds on the feet (received from splinters, glass, frostbite, etc.) especially if droppings have been allowed to accumulate.

Prompt antibiotic treatment is necessary if surgery is to be avoided; if left untreated, gangrene will set in, resulting in loss of the foot.

Calluses (thick, hard pads on bottom of feet)

Can result from perching on perches that are too hard, or that do not vary in width.

Be sure main (roosting) perch is of a width that allows toes to extend ¾ of the way around. Other perches should be of varying widths and materials; including A & E Rope and Cable Perches and similar perches allow the bird to choose a soft surface on occasion. Concrete perches should not be used as main perch but rather only as accessory perches, i.e. near the food bowl (and not at all if calluses are present).

Feather Ailments

French Moult (damaged feathers, loss of flight and tail feathers, bleeding)

Caused by a viral infection (Polyomavirus), French moult usually afflicts young parrots. It is rarely fatal but bird may be unable to fly thereafter.

There is no known treatment; recovered birds may still harbor the virus and thus should not be bred.

Feather Cysts (small lumps on the feathers)

Most common in canaries, this condition is genetic and the result of inbreeding.

Incurable; care should be taken to avoid breeding related birds or related lined of birds to each other.

Respiratory Ailments

Tracheal Mites and Gape Worm (wheezing, difficulty breathing, gaping, coughing, voice change/loss)

The parasites responsible for these conditions may be spread by other birds (in the case of mites) or through foods, such as earthworms, that may harbor gape worms.

Ivermectin and other anti-parasite medications are effective treatments. Infected birds should be isolated from others.

Psittacosis (fluid dripping from nostrils, breathing difficulty, exhaustion, inflamed eyes, sometimes accompanied by diarrhea)

This bacterial (Clamydia) disease is readily transmittable to people and can be fatal.

Contact your family doctor and veterinarian immediately.

Digestive Ailments

Salmonella Infection (huddled posture, diarrhea, stained vent feathers, lethargy)

This bacterium can be spread by roaches, rodents, wild birds, infected pet birds and seed contaminated with rodent droppings, and is most common among birds kept in unclean and crowded situations.

Salmonella is readily transmitted to people, and may be fatal to very young, elderly or immune-compromised individuals. Veterinarian-administered antibiotic treatments are often effective.

Candidiasis (mouth open and tongue extended; white fungus may appear along inner surfaces of the bill)

This fungal disease usually occurs in the presence of Vitamin A deficiencies, and is most commonly seen in nectar feeding birds (lories, hummingbirds, sunbirds).

Antibiotics and Vitamin A supplements are usually effective.

Reproductive System Ailments

Egg Binding (swelling about vent, straining, labored breathing, sitting on floor, puffed feathers)

The inability of a female bird to pass an egg is usually the result of a calcium deficiency.

Although lubricants applied to the cloaca (vent) sometimes help, veterinary intervention is usually required. A well-balanced diet that includes the correct amounts of calcium and other minerals is particularly important for females of all species.

Cloacal Warts or Papillomas (small, hard growths on and about the cloaca, or vent)
Cloacal warts are most commonly seen in South American parrots, particularly Amazons and macaws. They may constrict the cloaca, causing constipation and preventing the bird from breeding.

Silver nitrate (bathing the affected area) cures the condition, but afflicted birds should not be allowed to breed until they have been wart-free for at least 1 year.

Information concerning commonly encountered ailments (parakeets and related species) is posted at:


Diagnosis and Treatment of Ailments Afflicting Parrots, Canaries, Finches, Mynas and other Cage and Aviary Birds – Part 1

As with all pets, a nutritious diet and proper environmental conditions are the most important factors in maintaining the health of captive birds. When health concerns do arise, you should seek veterinary assistance. The following information will help you to identify, avoid and treat (while awaiting a veterinarian’s advice) commonly encountered bird ailments. It is a good idea to always have on hand a basic first aid kit, such as the VSI Pet Care Kit

Please remember that many bird-borne illnesses are transmittable to people, where they can cause severe or even fatal reactions. Consult your doctor concerning appropriate preventative steps, even if your bird is healthy. Emerging diseases, such as Avian Flu and West Nile Virus, should also be discussed.

A Word about Stress
After working with hundreds of bird species over several decades, I can say with certainty that stress is one of the most important underlying factors affecting the health of captive birds. This applies to a greater or lesser extent to different species and individual birds, but it is of concern to all.

Unfortunately, the problems caused by stress often manifest themselves in ways that seem unrelated to stress, and so we may wind up treating an illness but neglecting its underlying cause. For example, the fungus Aspergillus is common in nearly all environments and causes healthy birds no trouble at all. Years ago, however, bird keepers noticed that birds of many species became ill with Aspergillus infections (Aspergillosus) when moved from one cage to another. Samples taken in zoos showed that this occurred despite the fact that fungus levels were the same in both cages.

The explanation is that the transfer of a bird from its usual home to another is an extremely stressful event, especially for secretive species (i.e. birds of paradise in zoos, or certain finches in the pet trade) or shy individuals. The stress weakens the bird’s immune system, and pathogens that were otherwise destroyed by it now render the bird ill. So common is this phenomenon that many zoos now routinely medicate birds before moving them to new exhibits.

Immune system stress can arise from other factors as well – threatening cage mates, noise, poor diet, inappropriate temperatures, boredom and so on. Be sure to learn as much as you can about your pets, and provide them with the proper captive environment.

Eye Ailments

Red, swollen or closed eyes are indicative of an infection or traumatic injury. Please be aware that such is also seen in birds infected with Psittacosis, a serious disease that is transmittable to people.

Apply an ophthalmic ointment or drop (drops are often washed away by the eye’s secretions). Be sure to keep the cage bars and perches clean, as birds often rub sore eyes on these.

Check back on Wednesday for the conclusion of this article.

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